Jean (Dasté), captain of a barge on the Seine, marries innocent Juliette (Parlo), and takes her to live on his boat. Soon Juliette feels stifled by life on the water. At one point, when the barge is moored, she sneaks off to explore Paris. Jean discovers her missing, and frantically begins searching for her, making us feel the couple's very survival is at stake.
A sublime melding of the real and surreal, the deceptively simple plot of Jean Vigo's "L'Atalante" is part of its lasting appeal. Life on water is Eden, life on land, temptation, and we instinctively want the sanctity of Jean and Juliette's love upheld. An acknowledged masterpiece, "L'Atalante" still floats gracefully, with actor Michel Simon stealing the picture as Pere Jules, the barge's eccentric, cantankerous first-mate. Sadly, this was the gifted Vigo's only full-length feature; he died shortly after its release, at age 29.